What turns out to be the most controversial is often a surprise. Sometimes I can write something or say something and it gets little reaction when I would expect it to create a lot of heat. Other times, I say something I consider fairly innocuous or obvious and it creates waves with people taking the general point deeply personal.
One of those surprisingly controversial moments has been my suggestion that an advisory body suggesting a car ban on Sundays in cities isn’t really persecution. I initially pointed out that there would be the option to go to a local church. By the reaction I got, you’d think I had suggested that people should switch church for their local Satanic coven.
Now, it’s worth at this point saying that a big struggle seemed to be with me stating a generalism. When I say that, generally speaking, the option is there to go to a local church within walking distance, I of course recognise that this won’t be possible for everyone. As I said in the detailed article, this is one of the problems with attempting top down regulation on such matters. We might want to encourage people to walk to a local church where possible but that won’t always be the case. Interestingly, some of the responses I got from people attacked me for having a city/urban centric view of life. That’s interesting because the original recommendation from the IEA was specific to cities and not to rural areas. Incidentally it was also a recommendation to exclude cars from cities on Sundays not to prevent all forms of vehicle transport everywhere (I presume buses/mini-buses, trains and trams are permitted).
Anyway, the worst of the responses were probably these two.
A shill is a confidence trickster. The implication there is that I’m involved in some kind of deceit -and that for financial gain. I can assure you that I gain nothing financially from the opinion that seeking to reduce car use on Sundays does not amount to persecution. But I’ve noticed this a lot on social media. Christians seem to be so quick to do two things.
- To attack the heart motives of other people instead of engage with the substance of what they are saying.
- To resort to personal abuse and name calling.
This is wrong, it is sin. How do we know it is sin? Well, this is what Jesus says in Matthew 5:22:
22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[a] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[b] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[c] of fire.
That was the point of my initial interaction with @kardia which prompted the comment from @JParkYYC
Now, let’s pick up on a couple of things here specific to the second response.
- When you are engaging in the very sin that Scripture rebukes, you don’t get to be the one deciding how to interpret that Scripture in order to get you off the hook.
- The obvious one: You and I are not Jesus.
The second point is the significant one. You see just because Jesus from the perspective of being omniscient, perfect and sinless can do something without sin doesn’t mean that you and I can. Because of that, it is helpful to think more carefully about what he does in Matthew 23 and what he forbids in Matthew 5.
In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounces woe on the scribes and the Pharisees. He bases that woe on specific behaviours which place legalistic burdens on others whilst they refuse to accept those burdens on themselves. Those behaviours expose the hearts of the religious leaders as hypocritical but more than that, Jesus is the one who knows hearts and can read minds. It is worth also observing that the target of Jesus’ remarks are wolves who oppress the flock.
In Matthew 5, you will observe first of all, that Jesus is talking about how brothers and sisters within God’s family relate to each other, not to the responsibility which under shepherds have to defend the flock against attack. The question again is to do with our hearts. I must not allow my heart to be governed by harsh, bitter, unrighteous anger which spills out into words and actions because there we see the root of murder. Notice too that this means there is a difference between the desire to rescue someone from sin with a rebuke and murder through character assassination.
As finite human beings who cannot read the minds and less so the hearts of others we should refrain from launching personal attacks and resorting to name calling. This should be generally true but more so with our brothers and sisters. We should seek to think the best of them and have a charitable view towards their motives. Christians will disagree on all kinds of secondary issues, some significantly important, some minor. When we do, then rather than accusing and name calling, we do well to listen carefully to one another, to be ready to ask and answer questions and to reason carefully and lovingly from Scripture.
Does that mean that we never can confront sin and evil. Does it mean that we should not call out false teachers, exercise church discipline or name divisive and dangerous people? Well no -and there are plenty of other examples in Scripture as well as instruction on how to do this without us trying to be Jesus without the benefits of infallibility.
But in such cases, what I would encourage is first of all that we focus on the actual behaviours we are seeing and the words we are hearing. We should challenge those things and show why they are wrong and dangerous. It is right too to warn of how such behaviours, especially when seen constantly may well be exposing a heart condition. However, because we are not Jesus, I would still trust the Holy Spirit to do the crucial work of exposing the heart, convicting the sinner and bringing them to repentance.